The Thames Gateway presents London with a great opportunity to solve its housing crisis. But this will only happen if the government is prepared to commit funds and take a strategic approach to development.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott’s recent declaration that 200,000 homes should be built in the Thames Gateway is a sensible one. The area stretching 40 miles east of the City towards the North Sea is Europe’s largest brownfield site and provides a great opportunity for the government to relieve pressure on land in the South-east.

But for 30 years, developers have shied away from the area. They thought the region too risky, due to the lack of infrastructure and amenities - the few developments that have been built have tended to be isolated, lonely places.

But things could be about to change. A source close to Prescott says that the deputy prime minister is asking Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, to release money for infrastructure development. And to kickstart regeneration, Prescott has asked English Partnerships to scour the area for suitable development sites.

There are also signs of progress on CrossRail, the £10bn proposed high-speed railway linking Docklands to central London and Heathrow. Later this month, The London Development Agency will receive a cost/benefit analysis on whether CrossRail should run through Charlton or the Royal Docks, and other route options will be presented to the government by the end of the year. In a move to encourage government funding, Canary Wharf also recently announced it would contribute half the costs of a £120m station at its rapidly growing commercial development.

The £115m Docklands Light Railway extension to City Airport and North Woolwich has also been given the go-ahead this year, and this will provide the transport links required to facilitate developments around the Royal Docks in Docklands.

There is still a long way to go, though. A criticism levelled at the government by urban taskforce chairman Lord Rogers is the lack of a single body to drive through integrated development. The task is divided among a number of quangos and government departments, which can mean there are conflicting interests. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is in charge of housing, planning and regeneration, but has no transport remit. Others groups attempting to influence development include Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Authority, the London Development Agency, the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships.

Last week the GLA listed six "zones of changes" in the Thames Gateway at Dagenham, Deptford, the Greenwich Pennisula, Lower Lee Valley, Isle of Dogs and Woolwich and Thamesmead. The GLA wants to build new development around established town centres and industrial areas, to ensure that new residents are integrated into established communities.

CABE chief executive John Rouse thinks a holistic approach is essential. He is worried that sites will continue to be developed in a piecemeal fashion at suburban densities unless there is a strategic plan. If there isn’t an integrated approach, he warns, the opportunity to make the Thames Gateway a desirable place to live will be lost.